Shot 20 - The children under a stylized night sky

The children awake and are immediately gathered up by Cooper. The introduction of Cooper “rhymes” with the children’s interactions with both Birdie and Powell. For example, back at the beginning of this sequence, the children have just come from the houseboat where a very drunk Birdie was unable to help the children. Thus they must fend for themselves and are shown running rightward during shots 1 and 2 before reaching the boat in shot 3. This rhymes (inversely) with shots 80-83: the children are with the boat in shot 80, then are shown running leftward for shots 81-83. Both the direction and the number of shots are important.

Shots 27-31 - Powell separated from the children by shots of the Spoons and wide aerial shots

The first shared shot (eleventh shot) is where Eli proposes a new oil venture to Daniel. Both characters are seen together, signifying that they are in a similar psychological situation. Daniel is in low spirits, because H.W., his son, left him recently; on the other hand, Eli is tormented due to the financial crisis, which his father (God in the Biblical sense) caused by abandoning him. The chosen shot is also a manipulation of Darwinian Theory; according to Darwin (1998, p.26), “no two individuals of the same race are quite alike.” Nevertheless, the initial function of the chosen shot is to show the similar condition of the characters (distorted minds). Furthermore, this shot suggests a metaphorical reading of the characters’ first names (Daniel and Eli, both Biblical names- both with similar roots). It can be argued that Darwin tackles physical appearances and not psychological ones. However, Anderson utilises Darwin’s theory to demonstrate the psychology of his characters: their physical condition as a façade to their distorted souls.


Shot 57 - Powell on the horizon

Shots 53-60 - Powell invading the soundtrack and the frame as the children rest in the barn

1. Directors consciously manipulate the image in order to prevent the viewers from ‘forming a state of mind’. As a result, audiences are not able to read films critically, and therefore will be deluded by film’s deception.


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Besides simply countering the tightness of the previous house scene’s composition, however, the lines of this image guide the children onto the shore. Both the house and the barn are staged diagonally to the camera, which causes their roofs to slope inward towards the center, visually drawing the viewer’s eye and compositionally drawing the children. Of course this visual structure is also doubled in the water’s reflection, strengthening its pull in the frame. We can take this idea one step further: while the barn’s roof does not reach the top of the frame (leaving sky space), the shot is composed in such a way that its reflection in the water doesmeet with the bottom of the frame. In this way, their way forward by boat is blocked off; the composition demands they stop their rightward progress and follow the shot’s lines into the center of the frame where they will dock their boat and rest in the barn.

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However, once Powell has invaded the children’s frame as described above, the homestead environment changes. The difference between shots 44 and 64 is striking: the backlight is much dimmer (consistent with the progression of time within the diegesis, but expressive nonetheless), the window with the birdcage is now unlit, and perhaps most noticeably, the river has changed. Now darker and flowing more turbulently, the water no longer reflects the top half of the screen, decreasing the shot’s stylization and concurrently increasing how realistic it looks. Recalling the implicit safety of unrealistic environments that the mise en scène of the R1 set established, it follows that the increasing realisticness of the shot means a loss of security for the children, and they board their boat to leave behind their safehouse that is now corrupted by its return to reality.

The way Eli’s blood is depicted carries a dual meaning:

Besides their inverse symmetry (a boat quickly leaving a space [full space -> empty space] in 16, a boat slowly filling a space [empty space -> full space] in 72; both shots feature an empty frame for part of their duration), these shots are especially noteworthy because of their close framing of the boat. Nowhere else in the sequence is the boat framed so closely and to the exclusion of other things; the camera generally prefers wide shots of the boat moving down the river, or medium/medium close-ups of John and Pearl in the boat. The two other times the children board or disembark during the sequence either take place offscreen (shot 31) or in very wide shots (44, 64). Thus shot 16 and shot 72 (and 72's repetition, 74) mirror each other in their compositional similarity, and function to begin and end the children’s journey down the river. Viewers can note the similarities between the two shots and realize that the 72 is meant to bring to a close what 16 began.